“In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.” —Laurie Halse Anderson
10 years is a mighty long time. Rewinding a decade returns us to a time when Kanye West was a famous hip-hop son dealing with the passing of his beloved mother. He was pouring out his pain through Auto-Tune, a transparent man making music headed toward a sound uncharted.
Kid Cudi was his protégé, the heir to a kingdom unfinished but in the process of being built. Together and separately, excitement surrounded the two; they exuded a potential without the weight of limits.
We only imagine the rise, never the fall.
Failure isn’t predicted, only the promise of success. The two succeeded for a long while, but eventually, both artists discovered limits, and their flight turned to a slow fall from grace.
Kanye’s fall is much different than Cudi’s. Cudi has never been the most pleasant person, but there was nothing harmful about his outbursts. Being outspoken didn’t hurt his career, it was personal demons and a descending creative prowess that affected him. The spark that brought him initial acclaim would appear only in bursts of sporadic magic, and he's spent the last few years colliding with a wall with only the occasional breakthrough.
2016's Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ isn’t his worse offering, but not the heralded Moon Man of old. He still has good ideas, but the album is painfully long-winded and fails to create any real desire to revisit its best moments.
The promise of KIDS SEE GHOSTS, his joint album with Kanye, is that it's an album with only seven songs. With brevity, this is Cudi's chance to channel those sparks into a controlled inferno. Kanye West understands Kid Cudi artistically. For the last decade, their collaborations have sounded like two artists creating from a synced wavelength. Unfortunately, an album that should’ve naturally occurred years ago has happened when Mr. West is past his prime and constantly in public hellfire.
Kanye has always been the perfect guide for Cudi’s talent, but is he capable in 2018? After the incomplete ye, I'm not sure. Coming off a year filled with lukewarm collaborations, Kanye and Cudi will either join in on the disappointment or finally display a joint project that lives up to expectations.
In usual 1-Listen fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Feel the Love" ft. Pusha-T
A stuttering beginning. I’m already feeling things. Cudi’s voice. He can feel the love. I like how he sounds. Pusha! Loving the seamless swap in. This man could rap over a sneeze if Kanye sampled it and make it sound like a lyrical Mona Lisa. G.O.O.D. summer is an extended G.O.OD. Friday. Gunshots. It’s pretty extreme, harsh, but engrossing. The song is exploding. This is sonic eruption. Kanye just turned this elegant intro into his personal shooting range. A human Draco. These drums are hitting. Beat switch. This insanity is the kind of trolling Deadpool would definitely try if he was a rapper. Strange, but I’m here for it. We have returned to the eloquence. I’m seeing all the colors on the album cover. Soft yellows, reds, and blues. It’s so soft. The minimalism works very well with Cudi. Then he returned back to intense. I wonder if this is the duality of Kanye and Cudi, another play on representing his superpower in music.
Not a bad start. Now this is what I’m talking about. Sounding like tribal Moon Man music. Kanye is rapping. He sounds way more focused than the raps from ye. Just the way he is flowing and the ease of his delivery. A quick verse. Man. The music is so interesting. Cudi rapping. Sounds good. This is exactly the music Cudi should be making a decade into his career: ominous minimalism. So glad they didn’t try to make a trap album. So many interesting sounds. This is background music to time travel. Or horror music for all bad decisions in the future. The hook is good, but the production is gold. So weird, so engrossing. “Heaven lift me up.” Cudi’s hum is the greatest musical discovery of the 21st century. Guitar chords. Really lo-fi. A bit random to close out the record.
3. "4th Dimension"
Sample. What is Santa bringing? OHHH!!! THAT DROP!!! He’s back to chopping. Kanye just made my entire soul do a backflip. That alligator Lacoste bar got a chuckle. Kanye is back in rapper mode. This man is giving me his best flow in years. I’d rewind it if I could. Someone is laughing like they just stole a winning lottery ticket from an unsuspecting purse. Very creepy. My skin is crawling. Make it stop. Vintage Cudi. He’s not the best rapper, never has been, but on the right beat Cudi can be a convincing Jedi. I’m juiced up. An insane beat. Two good verses. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is not letting me down.
4. "Freeee (Ghost Town Pt. 2)" ft. Ty Dolla $ign
Who was that speaking about only needing two minutes for a song? [Editor's Note: That would be G.O.O.D MUSIC signee Valee.] How right he is. Another vocal sample? Not sure where it’s from. Big production. Still minimal but sounding bigger than the highest New York skyscraper. Crazy riffs. Kanye's saying he feels free. The Kanye and Cudi combo is taking me to a holy place. Build a church for their sermon. Is that Ty Dolla?! Can someone please sign him up for his seven-Kanye-song stimulus package? That man is showing up and showing out. “You should quit your jobs to this.” The vocal transitions with the beat transition! This is INSANE. Dolla $ign would’ve made an excellent gospel singer. If he wanted to drop the pimping and pick up the hymn book I would be all for it. Maybe in another lifetime. He should talk to Snoop. My ears are so free they have lifted from my body. My ears are on the ceiling, I need a ladder to get them down. How do I describe this? It’s like a gospel rock song that leans on both sounds with an thoughtful harmony. This is the kind of innovative thinking I wanted from Kanye and Cudder, nothing out right now sounds like this. These synths. Whoa.
Low piano key. Cudi has come in harmonizing. He’s been pretty solid throughout the first four songs. I have to say, this sounds like a Man On the Moon cut. “Ain’t no stress on me,” we have returned to the church of Cudi. It feels so good, so pure, so warm. I’m hearing the motivation anthem of 2018. Kanye don’t ruin this for me. Holy shit. He’s so open. He’s rapping his ass off. This is the Ye that I wanted on ye. No, come back. I need that again. Who was that? That man took the MAGA hat off and threw on the Pink Polo. CUDI HOOK! CAN I LIVE IN THIS HOOK?! “KEEP MOVING FORWARD.” Armor. This song is like wearing the strongest armor against the bullshit. Cudi's really sounding like 2009 and the tears won’t stop. He’s talking about his personal demons. Still owes me my fade, but I feel ya kid. This is the song you put on loop and overcome your life obstacles. The breakdown is pleasant. As someone who was the world’s self-proclaimed big brother, this is the song Cudi was meant to make his entire career. The entire one.
6. "Kids See Ghosts" ft. Mos Def
Loving these drums. They’re so thin. Mos Def! Whoa whoa whoa! That’s a voice I wasn’t expecting to hear. He has such a pleasant voice. Cudi tagged in. Someone bring Mos back, I need more of that. This is a cool record. It’s a little stranger than the other records, the kind of strange that’s fitting of MOTM 2. Cool little whisper hook. Kanye has been RAPPING. This is not the same rapper from the last few years. Where are they finding these verses!?!? Is there a hard drive of old Ye verses? It’s like he found his own personal Blackberry with the side scroll with good verses from years ago. The Watch the Throne flow is taking me to a place Kanye hasn’t taken me since 2011. This man is water walking. I’m beyond impressed he still had this tier of rapping within him. “Vibing on the future.” Can we please hear the scrapped ye album? Mos really came through with an easy hook. Is that Mos doing the spoken word? Man, this track sounds like the African music you’ll discover within the pyramids. Production has been from another dimension. Kanye knew what I wanted.
7. “Cudi Montage”
A lot of guitars used in the making of this album. Cudi starting off. Cool little flow. There’s something about his voice that sounds almost like he’s not enunciating. Maybe he’s always rapped like that. He did much more rapping than I expected. Hums and singing combination. “Stay strong.” There’s some uplifting music on here, man. I can’t believe Kanye has sounded this good rapping. This is some of his best rapping in years. YEARS. Is he talking about gun violence? WE BACK IN CHURCH. How can a man who has been so active in controversy that has hurt so many people still produce such beautiful music? I’m very much annoyed by this. KIDS SEE GHOSTS is a musical rainbow.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS (first listen) final thoughts:
KIDS SEE GHOSTS successfully taps into the Cudi and Kanye that the people have been craving. Lyrically, musically, and sonically, the album is in a zone they’ve scratched upon, have been close to touching, but haven’t quite reached in some time. There’s a nostalgic tickle as they operate in a sonic space that allows the two to sound vintage, yet refreshingly original. It’s an album of old tricks with a new purpose; innovative ideas with pristine execution.
To compare KIDS SEE GHOSTS to ye would be like comparing a completed painting to a sketch. If the rumors are true, that the album delay was to complete the project, the wait was well worth it.
There’s a sincerity to KIDS SEE GHOSTS that’s also satisfying. Cudi is open, the transparent artist he’s known to be. He is strong, as both the master of melodies and as a touching songwriter. Kanye’s raps are thoughtful—each lyric sound as if he actually mused upon what was being said. For the first time during this G.O.O.D. rollout, he has rapped on par with the quality of his production. For the third time, Kanye the producer has fed ears with a pleasant soundscape.
To call this album anything but beautiful would be disingenuous. There are moments where it gets bumpy (the end of "Fire"), but overall, the beauty shines through from the first second to the closing note.
I wanted KIDS SEE GHOSTS to throw music into a new dimension, and only time will tell where music goes from here. What the album immediately accomplishes is transporting listeners into a dimension of sound that truly feels unlike anything currently being created. The album is short, but like any trip, it feels good to leave your commonplace surroundings.
KIDS SEE GHOSTS sounds like music moving forward.
By Yoh, aka Yoh See Ghosts, aka @Yoh31